‘The Sopranos’: The Character Leslie Bega Wanted Before She Got the Valentina Role

Writers on The Sopranos got a lot of mileage out of the extramarital affairs of Tony Soprano (James Gandolfini). Tony’s dalliance with Irina (Oksana Lada) nearly broke up his marriage to Carmela (Edie Falco). And Tony’s relationships with Gloria Trillo (Annabella Sciorra) and Valentina La Paz (Leslie Bega) were even more destructive.

In the case of Valentina, Bega’s character ended up with severe burns following a fire that started in her kitchen. (She was cooking Tony a snack.) It was a long way from Valentina’s practical joke-filled entry to the story. But it was even further from Bega’s expectations going into her Sopranos audition.

Before she considered playing one of Tony’s mistresses, Bega had her eye on a far more businesslike part. At the time, she didn’t think Valentina was the sort of role she could handle (or would want to). Yet the casting process led her straight to what she considered a “bombshell” character.

Leslie Bega wanted the part of an FBI agent on ‘The Sopranos’

James Gandolfini and Leslie Bega clink their glasses in a toast in a scene from 'The Sopranos.'
James Gandolfini and Leslie Bega in a scene from ‘The Sopranos’ | HBO

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While Bega pushed to audition for FBI agent Deborah Ciccerone, casting directors weren’t particularly worried about that part. Their main priority when Bega entered the picture was Tony’s new “goomar” Valentina. And the production needed Valentina immediately.

“I said, ‘I’ll audition for Valentina if you let me audition for the FBI agent,'” Bega recalled on the Talking Sopranos podcast. The casting director agreed, but Bega only had until the following morning to get her audition tape from L.A. to New York. And it was near the end of the day in L.A.

So Bega had to hustle both auditions onto her video (i.e., VHS) tape and rush it to the FedEx drop before the cutoff for overnight shipments. She made it, and the following day she heard from the Sopranos casting director in New York. They wanted her to get on a plane that night.

“I said, ‘I need to know my odds [of getting the part],'” Bega recalled. “‘Because flying to New York is a big trip. I can do it, I just need to know the odds.’ And they said, ‘No no no — you have the part.'” She hopped on that plane.

Bega saw Valentina La Paz as ‘an Italian Jessica Rabbit’

Leslie Bega smiles for the camera at a 2004 Grammys event.
Leslie Bega during The 46th Annual Grammy Awards | Arun Nevader/FilmMagic

Once Bega got the part, she had to begin her physical transformation. Valentina’s very showy style (push-up bra, cheetah-print jackets, fake nails) was not exactly in her wheelhouse, but the wardrobe and makeup departments got it done.

Then came the reading of the character. “David [Chase] and I had a different vision for Valentina,” Bega said on Talking Sopranos. “When I read her, I saw her like an Italian Jessica Rabbit. When they saw my audition, David [told the director], ‘That’s who we’re going with. That’s the direction.'”

As for the Deborah Ciccerone part, casting that part turned out to be more difficult than Sopranos producers expected. After initially casting Fairuza Balk as the undercover agent who works Adriana La Cerva (Drea de Matteo), Lola Glaudini stepped into the role, forcing a reshoot for the season 3 finale after it had aired.